Friday, 01 June 2018 16:38

Smoke and Sacrifice Review

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Smoke and Sacrifice from Solar Sail Games is an open-world, narrative-driven RPG, with a very heavy focus on crafting. An easy way to describe it is to say it’s almost like Don’t Starve with a much bigger emphasis on the story and combat, and where everything wants to kill you. The environments are deadly, the creatures are deadly, and occasionally even the quest-giving NPCs end up trying to kill you. The graphics are stunning, and without getting into detail, the story is tragic and heartbreaking at times. If you’re a parent, you will definitely identify with Sachi and her quest. The collecting and crafting can be satisfying as long as you make smart decisions about when to back away and realize a fight isn’t worth it.

Rough Start

There aren’t many options when you first start the game, and no graphics options aside from changing the resolution. 2560X1080 is included in the list, but all this did was put black bars on the sides of an ultrawide monitor. It would be nice to see ultrawide support, and some UHD resolutions added.

The game recognized a PS4 controller as soon as it was plugged in, with nothing else required to use it.  An Xbox controller was not available for testing, but should work as it has native support through Steam.  It did not recognize an older Logitech gamepad with the x360ce drivers.

The developers make it clear early on that this isn’t going to be easy, with very little hand holding. You’re thrown right into things, with no tutorials, no explanation of the controls, no map, and little guidance on where to go. It’s easy enough to figure out that you can move with either WASD or left mouse click (and of course the left stick on a controller), and you’ll eventually figure out where to go if you wander around enough. Once you get past the starter area, you’re given access to your map, inventory, and crafting menu.

An icy landscape surrounds the starting area, keeping you on the general path of where you need to be. It’s a nice touch, compared to some games that might just use an invisible barrier, which can really break immersion. It also helps set up expectations for the layout of the following areas.

She’s Got the Look

Simply put, the hand-painted graphics are beautiful. The effects don’t stand out in any way, which is fine because they could have looked overwhelming and out of place if they did. The game is not at all demanding and has relatively low hardware requirements. It ran extremely smooth at a consistent 60 fps on a GTX 970M.

The animation of the characters seems strange at first, with weird head bobbing and arm swinging almost like they’re not people but living paper dolls. After exploring for a while though, you’ll realize it fits perfectly with the surreal and dreamlike world. Everything always feels just a little bit off, like the edge of a nightmare. The world moves from swamps, to icy wastelands, to industrial factories seemingly at random sometimes. The early part of the game can be slightly unsettling when you’re never sure what you’re about to run into and whether you have the proper items to handle it.

Try, Die, Repeat

The game can be pretty challenging — not soul-crushingly hard, but frustrating at times. There’s a large number of things to keep track of. Weapons and equipment degrade with use, and some crafting items will degrade over time on their own if not eaten or used in a recipe. When gathering for crafting, it’s a good idea to stock up on more than you need at the time, but also be careful not to take so much that it wastes away. One nice feature is that you can repair some items before they’re destroyed for a smaller component cost than crafting a whole new one.

Death comes fast and in many ways. You might be fighting one enemy, when your attack knocks them back into another group of enemies who now join the fight. Some enemies don’t have a clear attack pattern, charging and hitting you when it seems like you should have been out of the way.  The aggro range seemed a little too large, with enemies that you can’t even see behind a house or tree attacking for huge damage amounts before you even know they’re coming.

At least on smaller and average-sized enemies, their hitbox is much smaller than yours, so you might waste a few swings of your weapon trying to get a good hit, giving them enough time to hit you first. Early in the game you can acquire a crossbow, which should make combat easier if you prefer a ranged combat style, but it was extremely hard to aim with a controller and not much better with the mouse.

When enemies hit, they hit hard, especially compared to how much damage you do. Healing items don’t restore anywhere close to the amount of damage you might take in a single hit. The early part of the game can be a real struggle until you get more powerful gear.

Environmental Hazards

The world itself is just as lethal as the enemies. There’s a day/night cycle where a deadly fog comes at night, and if you don’t have a light source equipped you’ll slowly lose health. The environment changes from swamps, to ice, to lava, to electrified floors and these areas require you to have a certain type of boots equipped to even enter them. It’s a good idea to be sure that your equipment is always at full durability, and that you have some spare parts or items to repair them as needed.

There are very few moments where it’s safe to stop and relax. There are a good amount of save terminals (save often!) and transport tubes that you can unlock with collected coins, but even these areas are not totally safe from enemies wandering in and killing you.

A Game of Risk

If you want a challenge, you’ve found it. Some of the combat often feels unfair and with the amount of time you spend fighting, it comes close to derailing the whole experience. It can be a very frustrating experience to collect almost everything you need to progress, and then die just before getting to the next save terminal.

There are a few points where it feels like you're stuck in a never-ending loop of “fetch this.” For example, one quest requires you to craft rubber boots to access a new area. To get the rubber you need to use ice bombs on a certain enemy, but to craft the ice bombs you need an ingredient collected from another enemy who has to be stunned with a different type of bomb. When you factor in that you'll probably die a few times in the process, it all becomes a little too much.

Overall, the game is based on a heavy risk/reward system. Do you hunt for the ingredients you need to craft a healing potion, knowing that nearby enemies could take away more damage than that potion would restore? Do you attack the enemy that you know has needed ingredients, but who will kill you in two hits, or just run past to your next objective? There are no easy decisions.


The Verdict: Good

There’s a lot to like in Smoke and Sacrifice, but it’s not for everyone.The gamecan be as harsh and unforgiving as the world it’s set in, so if you’re looking for a real challenge this might be for you. Otherwise, the uneven combat, which you find yourself in quite often, might be a reason to stay away.

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Brad Huffmanparent

Brad has loved gaming since he first picked up an Atari joystick in the late 70s, a fact that makes him feel really old right now.   He recently graduated from Southern New Hampshire University with a BS in Game Design and Development /Interactive Storytelling.  He’s the co-founder / editor / writer of an indie comic studio, and is also working as a writer on an upcoming indie MMORPG. It’s probably easier to list the types of games he doesn’t play (RTS and sports) rather than the ones he does, although he wouldn’t turn away any game that you put in front of him.  He likes to think that even the worst games have some redeeming quality, and finds it a challenge to dig in and discover what aspect the developers thought would be fun and try to figure out what went wrong.